How to be human in an age of technology.
If you’re a human being, this post is for you. It’s for everyone who feels overwhelmed with, or afraid of a future driven by technology and robotics. It’s for those who feel disconnected in an overly connected world. And mostly, it’s for people looking to feel more human, happier, more valuable in their daily lives and their relationships.
Once upon a time…
It all started on an average day going to an average job. It was a day like any other, yet this day, everything was different. I suddenly became intently aware of all the masks worn by people covering up the disappointment of sacrificing personal dreams and desires in exchange for a monthly salary that surrounded me.
I saw people being treated much like machines – driven for optimal performance and asked to refrain from expressing too much emotion at work and to keep their personal issues private. As long as it doesn’t interfere with your work.
In retrospect, I always saw it, it just never occurred to me that it could be different. That it’s crazy to ask someone not to feel and express their emotions at work. To expect someone to be optimally productive when they’re dealing with a personal crisis.
What separates us from machines is our emotions and our creativity. Not being able to express our emotions fully, and only being allowed to do repetitive tasks and what someone else tells us to do, is the opposite of what we’re designed for. And then we wonder why so many people are unhappy in their job.
Seeing the reality of this, I simply couldn’t stand it anymore. A few weeks later, I quit my job and walked away, re-evaluating everything and everyone. I spent the next few years crying the uncried tears of all the people who have sacrificed their heart’s desire in exchange for a monthly salary. And as the tears dried up, I detoxified from the expectations of a performance-driven society and started looking for an alternative.
My goal was to find a better way. A way where work wasn’t viewed as a necessary evil, but as something that you actually look forward to. Because that’s how it’s supposed to be. Work should have a purpose. It should bring pleasure. It should be human.
A tribute to technology
Disclaimer. I am one of the people automating the world and building new technology daily. I get excited when I read about new technologies and can spend hours talking about all the possibilities. I simply love technology. I can go without good coffee or chocolate, but I can’t go with technology.
We’ve come a long way thanks to technology. Thinking back only a few decades back, it used to be a full-time job to run a household, making it hard for women to have fulfilling careers.
There were only basic, part-manual washing machines, no dishwashers, no cleaning robots, no home deliveries, no internet banking, no google, no social media, no iPods.
If you wanted to do a bank transaction, you had to stand in a queue during banking hours, and talk to your personal banker, who was a human being that knew more than just the analytics about you.When you wanted to connect with someone, you got in your car and drove there, spending enough time to warrant the drive. Now, it’s as simple as sending an email, a WhatsApp message, or a Skype video call.
Technology has connected the world. It has empowered people, giving each person an equal chance to succeed. Anyone can apply for any job worldwide. Anyone can start a digital startup or become an entrepreneur with free landing page creators, eBay, and social media. Anyone can learn whatever skill they need with MOOC’s and blogs on any subject imaginable.
Yet, even though technology has reduced the amount of time we previously had to spend on boring, repetitive tasks, we seem to have less time than ever. We should be so much better connected, yet, we seem to be more disconnected than ever.
The shadow side of technology
For each good use of technology, there are equally bad uses. The best example to encompass the shadow side of technology to me, being the average call center experience.
Designed around efficiency, call centers reduce the humanness of the person on the other side of the line. The best performing call center agents are rewarded for handling the most calls per day and having the shortest average call duration. The faster you can get rid of the person on the other side of the line, the more money and rewards you earn. No time to listen to your personal story, we’ve got targets to meet!
And as call centers started struggling to find employees willing to do it as a result, chatbots and ‘intelligent’ knowledge bases were introduced, making the problem even worse. Companies started removing their contact information from their websites as they simply couldn’t handle the sheer volume of incoming calls. Trying to get hold of a human being became as hard as finding water in the middle of the desert.
The issue with call centers is that they’re mostly optimized for past experiences and averages, whereas the need for someone using it, is usually something that is not average or has not been experienced before. You need a thinking, problem-solving, caring human being on the other side of the line.
Machine learning can never replace human interaction, and it shouldn’t either.
Machine learning and the decline of Google
Artificial Intelligence, or AI for short, is one of the technologies that’s currently the buzzword. Google one of the main drivers behind it. Their intentions might be good, but the results are not.
My search experience with the new machine learning algorithm has not improved at all. Daily, I’m getting more frustrated with Google and turning to Bing more often. It’s simply assuming too many things about me that’s not true. It’s assuming that I would only be interested in information in my close proximity. It assumes that I speak the language of the country I’m living in. It assumes that I’m interested in what most other people are interested in.
I used to be able to type in a keyword and filter through the results, mostly getting exactly what I was looking for. Now, I type in a keyword or sentence and it automatically changes it without my consent because it thinks I made a mistake.
Who am I, mere human, to know what I’m looking for compared to the superiority of artificial intelligence?
I am shown results of the highest paying bidder on SEO keywords as opposed to the best objective match (thank goodness that is changing). Searching for information in another country is close to impossible, and beware the digital nomad – once you’ve signed up, you’re bound by that country’s rules you joined in.
Some things simply shouldn’t be automated. Conversations, relationships, emotions and human interactions are meant for humans, not computers.
AI should be used for automating what is boring but necessary, not restricting the future based on the past. It shouldn’t be used just because it’s the newest trend.
Relationships are meant to be human
For one, technology should not automate any process at the expense of a human interaction. When a hospital uses technology to optimize efficiency and maximize profits, trying to handle as many patients as possible, it’s just wrong.
Sick people need kindness and care, someone who will listen to them and take the time to explain what’s happening to them. A patient isn’t a resource or an input or a number or a file. A patient, beyond everything else, is a person. A person with feelings of what is happening with them, and fears of what might become of their family when they are not there anymore.
Another example of technology gone bad is social media. The social media obsession is killing our relationships without anyone noticing.
You’re not connecting with anyone when you check their online profile and you have no idea what is really happening in that person’s life. People aren’t exactly inspired to post pictures of them crying or feeling miserable. Contrary, people tend to share what they want other people to believe, not what is necessarily true. I’ve witnessed firsthand the ‘dream couple’ sharing a life that is in stark contrast with what is really happening between them.
Facebook is a weak substitute for human interaction. At best, it’s a great marketing tool.
People don’t share their soul on social media, they only share the things safe for everyone to see. Connection is when you share things about yourself that you deem so valuable that you don’t trust it with everyone.
You see emotion in someone’s eyes, not on their social media profile. You hear what’s really going on by listening to the small nuances in their tone of voice, not by reading a text message or a blog post. You connect with people by touching them – giving a hug or shaking hands – not through a virtual reality interaction.
Social media is killing our social skills. It’s killing our relationships, and it’s disconnecting people. It’s literally building a wall between you and other people when you rely on social media to keep contact.
The rise of the robots
Whenever people used to talk about the rise of the robots and their fears of robots taking over the world, I was the one telling them it will never happen. But now, every time I switch on the TV, I see this future becoming more of a reality and I don’t like what I see most of the time.
I want to live in a world where I can walk on wet grass, and breathe the fresh air around me, looking up at blue skies. I want to smell flowers and hear people laughing. I want to taste nutritious and flavorful food grown slowly in plenty of water and sunshine and soil.
I want to live in a world where I can walk on wet grass and breathe the fresh air around me, looking up at blue skies. I want to smell flowers and hear people laugh. I want to live in a world where food is grown slowly in plenty of water, sunshine, and soil.
I want to live in a world where relationships are personal, not virtual.
I want to live in a world where people are more important than profits and productivity.
So what now?
You probably don’t hate your job or your co-workers as much as you think. It’s not the job, your employer, or the technology at fault. It’s the lack of human interaction, meaningful relationships, and purpose that’s missing.
Technology in itself isn’t bad. Technology used badly is. Don’t substitute human interaction with technology. Don’t automate conversations. Technology only exists when there are enough users. So it’s up to you whether the future is human or virtual. So go ahead.
Make that call. Take time to walk in nature. Speak to the person sitting next to you at work. Make it human.
Share yourself. Connect.
Images courtesy www.unsplash.com
With 20 years experience in the software development industry, Kate specializes in helping teams get unstuck, communicate and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement and organizational change. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.